Saturday, February 28, 2009


The news from the Department of Commerce was much worse than expected - US economy shrank 6.2% (annualized) over the last three months of 2008. The New York Times aired out the word "depression" in reporting it. Too early to say but you can't discount it - in any case, this looks like it will be much worse than the 1982-83 recession.

A number earlier this week was even more shocking: 45.7%. That was how much Japan's exports in January 2009 shrank compared to January 2008. Japan's exports to the US were down 52%, and overall car exports down 66%. Those are almost incomprehensible numbers. And they are a reflection of the weakness of the US economy more than that of the Japanese economy.

Will this threaten the assumptions the Obama Administration has made in its budget? Of course. Does that mean Obama should reduce spending requests. Not at all. If anything it further underscores the need for government spending. Ain't nobody else spending. Now is the right time for the government to invest on things like infrastructure, health care, and creating alternatives to carbon-intensive energy sources. The government's spending will keep some people in jobs and some companies in business, and sure as heck won't crowd out any private investment for a while...


Friday, February 27, 2009

close that loophole

Investment partnerships are "bristling" at the idea that their compensation should be treated as income, not capital gains - in other words, that they will face the tax brackets you and I do, not the 15% capital gain rate.

"Obama's plan would essentially treat investors who use their own capital to buy and sell businesses differently than the managers of the partnerships. Investors would be taxed at the capital gains rate; managers would be liable for income taxes. "

Sounds reasonable to me. It was a big fat juicy loophole. And I'm sure the managers can get by on the relative pittances they would have to endure if they pay the higher taxes.


good decision on dover

I think Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the right call - let the families of the dead troops make the call on media coverage when the remains of their loved ones arrive at Dover Air Force Base.

I have to say, the few photos I have seen of the coffins draped in flags never fail to choke me up. It is clear how seriously the military takes this final journey of their fallen comrades.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


It's a bit dizzying. President Obama and his administration are going to propose big changes in health care funding explicitly aimed at "getting health-care reform done this year" as White House domestic adviser Melody Barnes said.

I really want this to work. But I still can't be sure it will. GOP leader John Boehner says "Everyone agrees that all Americans deserve access to affordable health care" then immediately starts carping about taxes on small businesses. Hey, a lot of small businesses will be relieved to be out from under the stress of having to support health insurance for their employees, a situation where sometimes a catastrophic illness for an employee can become an insupportable burden on the business as well.

And lo and behold, the budget includes revenue from a cap and trade scheme on carbon emissions in 2012. To finish that this year, as well as health care and doing whatever it takes on the banks and economies, would be a challenge. Republican Senator John Barrasso (who's he? Wyoming) called the climate thing "a trillion-dollar climate bailout."

Dude, if we could bail out our climate for only a trillion dollars, it would be the single best investment in humanity's history.

I think David Broder is actually right for once - it is a bit of a gamble. But I don't think Obama has much choice. The tanking economy makes the current health care "system" even WORSE for Americans as many of us are laid off and therefore at exposed risk of bankruptcy and worse from medical conditions no longer covered. And we may be too late on the climate anyway - Congress needs to do something realistic, especially before the year-end UN climate change conference in Denmark.

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the travails of young conservatives

When I first began reading this thumb-sucking navel-gazer about how young "conservatives, libertarians, free-market/small-government types" drinking at a Capitol Hill bar were pitying themselves for having the misfortune of being young right-wingers in the early days of the non-right-wing Obama Administration, I was thinking snarky thoughts.

Then I decided not to snark because it wasn't that long ago that young liberals were bemoaning THEIR fate in a Washington dominated by the DeLay/Lott Congress and the de facto Bush White House.

Indeed, I could empathize slightly, although they make the typical young-person-in-a-Washington-bar mistake of assuming THEIR situation is somehow representative of the nation - it isn't, most young people drinking in bars outside of Capitol Hill aren't worrying about the ideology of the White House and Congress, and in any case it isn't like 98% of young Americans are liberals.

But then I read a quote by one Dustin Siggins which reminded me of how heartily I dislike a certain type of young conservative. Siggins said he was chatting up a young woman in a gym, when this young woman revealed her career ambitions: "But she wants to work for the ACLU, and I (Siggins) said, 'Oh, you're one of those.' "

And that's why I give a hearty "Screw You" to Siggins' ilk. Because he has internalized the divisive nature of right wing Republicanism in the early 21st century. He immediately labels her "one of those", which in modern Republicanism means "one of the enemy." You know, like being "that one". Hating America because you don't support workers rights for employees of the Department of Homeland Security. Hating America because you don't support tax breaks for the rich, or because you have the nerve to believe that the laws against torture should apply regardless of what party is in power.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

obama's speech

President Barack Obama nailed it. Good speech to Congress. Plenty of news about it, I'm not going to repeat it.

I only heard one sentence from Obama that I could imagine coming from the mouth of his non-illustrious and deservedly maligned predecessor, former de facto President George W. Bush. That sentence was, "...I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture."

Bush would have said that sentence. But he would only be able to say that comfortable that John Yoo and David Addington and others who give the legal profession a bad name had written legally questionable, self-serving briefs describing torture in such a way that the things Americans were doing in our name in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib could be deemed "not torture." So Bush would have said it, and given one of his little smirks.

Are we going to let the architects of torture in our name get away with it?

a strange image

I happened to glance at the back of a magazine today and saw a picture of a guy with a big birthmark on his head, sitting in the back of a car. I looked closer and confirmed my suspicion - it was Mikhail Gorbachev. In an advertisement for Louis Vitton.

So I cast my mind back 20 years, when Gorbachev was still Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the leader of the Communist Bloc. I write this and it feels like I'm referring to the last monarch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or something.

And to think - the leader of the Communist world, now selling Louis Vitton. Verily, the world has changed.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

a sign you are an out of touch politician (japanese edition)

The Obama Administration is sending lots of love to Japan. First, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made Japan her first overseas stop. And now Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso will be the first foreign head of government (not "head of state" as the Washington Post had it, that would be the Emperor for Japan) to have a White House meeting with President Obama.

Don't worry if you haven't heard of Aso. He's been prime minister for a few months and like what's-his-name and old-who's-it before him, will be lucky to even reach the one year mark. Junichiro Koizumi, who lasted five-and-a-half years, was obviously the exception to the rule that Japanese prime ministers don't last long nowadays.

Anyway, Aso has popularity ratings somewhere in Dick Cheney territory, which seems unfair because it's not like Aso has shot anybody in the face or implemented a regime of extrajudicial torture or anything.

But he has also shown he's out of it. First he defended his Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa for showing up drunk at a big econ blab-fest in Rome. I can understand this - if I was an economic minister in Japan or pretty much ANY country nowadays, I'd want to be drunk, too. Well, that didn't work and now poor Nakagawa has said sayonara.

And it turns out that Aso enjoys a drink - which is fine. But his "out of touch" sign: Aso said he frequents ritzy Tokyo hotel bars because "they are safe and reasonably priced".

Safe? Absolutely.

Reasonably priced? Not by any reasonable standard. I've drunk in the type of nice Tokyo hotel that politicians like Aso might drink in, and I'd only consider it reasonable if you think $15 beers are reasonable...

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"candid" condi? prognosis unlikely

So Crown will publish 3 books by Condi, paying $2.5m for the privilege. Crown's press release crows,

"Rice will combine candid narrative and acute analysis to tell the story of her time in the White House and as America's top diplomat, and her role in protecting American security and shaping foreign policy during the extraordinary period from 2001-2009," according to a statement issued yesterday by Crown, a division of Random House. Dr Rice's book is planned for 2011.

The only thing that I think is likely to be true in that paragraph is that the book - a memoir of her eight years in the de facto Bush Administration - is planned for 2011. Rice more than anybody is a creature of the Bush Dynasty, one who owes her professional advancement (I hesitate to write "success") to her buddy-buddy relationship with George W. Bush, which began during the presidency of Poppy Bush, in which Rice played a relatively junior role at the NSC. Of all former Bush Administration officials, Rice is the last one I can imagine writing a truly "candid" analysis of her time at NSC or State. Because a "candid" analysis would include such trenchant details as fixing the intel to satisfy the preconceptions of Cheney and the neocons who were spoiling for a war in Iraq from before Bush's election. It would include (assuming she is self-aware enough to notice it) an analysis of her failures in the role of National Security Adviser, as demonstrated by the Pentagon-State rivalry under Rumsfeld and Powell on key issues like Iraq.

As it is I will be interested in her "candid" look at things such as how Bush looked in Putin's eyes and saw his soul and deemed Putin somebody he could work with to support US policy goals (Putin will do so only as far as they support HIS goals), or how Bush, Rice and everybody else blew off Richard Clarke's "hair on fire" August 2001 warnings of an imminent Al Qaeda attack in the United States.

But I think it safe to assume that Rice will write little to offend or hurt her husband I mean her most recent patron, George W. Bush. I'm sure Crown will make money on the deal because the usual suspects on the right will buy her book in bulk. But unless I am vastly mistaken, I wouldn't expect it would be worth your hard-earned dollars. And unless she totally surprises me and IS candid, I bet far more copies are sold than are actually read.

Oh, as for "acute analysis" I'll be interested and surprised if she produces any. Because really, that's what she should have done in her eight years at NSC and State.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

fool 4 txtng

In this puff-piece about the texting habits of teens were a couple of interesting things. First, a Nielson survey shows teens with cell phones make 203 calls a month... and send 2272 text messages. That's 75 a day, about 4 1/2 per waking hour. That's a lot of thumb exercise and staring at the little screen. I average about one a month - obviously I'm no teen.

What are the consequences? Beats me, but George Mason University professor Peter Pober now advises faculty members "to limit their sentences to eight words or fewer during lectures, especially in introductory classes" because the students can't focus.

Wow. That's pretty bad. How do you convey reasonably complex thoughts in eight words or fewer?


Saturday, February 21, 2009

another abramoff one

A former aide to Republican Senator Thad Cochran has been charged of taking more than $25,000 in free stuff from Jack Abramoff, in exchange for helping Abramoff's clients.

Ann Copland, who spent 29 years working for Cochran, wasn't shy in making requests. For example, in 2002 she "requested tickets to Paul McCartney and Green Day concerts and Washington Capitals games. She also asked for the circus, but wrote, 'I'm only interested in the floor for that event.'"

Takes some nerve. And also, it's stupid to commit such demands for bribes to writing...


Friday, February 20, 2009

alberto gonzales syndrom strikes another republican

It is simply terrible, the disease that claims Republican after Republican, stealing their memories and leaving them unable to recall really important events. Alberto Gonzales Syndrome, named after the former Attorney General who simply couldn't remember ANYTHING, gosh, now has struck neocon foreign policy "thinker" Richard Perle.

Perle has it bad. At the Richard Nixon Center, Perle denied there was such a thing as a neoconservative, denied the neoconservatives had a foreign policy, denied that neocons wanted to invade Iraq, said he didn't read a 1996 report on a neocon approach to foreign policy that he was a signatory to. Before being led away by men in white suits, he denied having a mother and a father, denied having eaten breakfast, and said that his entire political philosophy was in fact based on Howdie Doodie.

Very sad. Let us lock him up and never allow him to embarrass himself again in public. It will be a kindness to poor Perle, the erstwhile Prince of Darkness.

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the queen is a ... queen?

George Mason University in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC elected a homecoming queen. Why now you ask? Because they don't have a football team, so it has to happen during basketball season.

Why is it notable? Because GMU's students elected a queen to be their queen. Specifically, Ryan Allen, a 22-year old student who works as a drag queen in local clubs, won the vote and is Ms George Mason. Two women split the "I prefer a female queen" vote.

Some sophomore name of Grant Bollinger complained, said it wasn't worthy of a school that was ranked #1 (among "Up and Coming National Universities", whatever that means) by U.S. News & World Report, he said -- it should act like it.

Oh lighten up Grant. You're too young to be a curmudgeon. Allen's election is harmless, the "position" is completely irrelevant, nobody is hurt (well, maybe the two women who lost to Allen, if one or both of them desperately wanted that meaningless title to validate their university existence or something). Six months from now, nobody will remember except GMU students.

And Ryan? You look marvellous.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

not surprised any more, are you?

Texan "wealth manager" Allen Stanford is now being sought by the FBI. Seems that like Bernie Madoff, his Stanford International Bank (no relation to the university) and its great returns were more the product of fraud than any particular financial acumen.

But we can't be surprised at incompetent or fraudulent Captains of Industry and Finance any more, right? And we can hope that Fortune and Business Week and the rest quit the sycophantic idolatry of CEOs. They might be good, they might be average, they might be incompetent, they might be crooks. But just because they are in charge of a company that looks like it's doing well doesn't make them supermen or paragons of how to behave.

So, view it all with a little cynicism. It is a useful tool to employ.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

morons in the news

Today we have a quad of stories about Morons. Let's look at them, shall we?

The Moron from the North

Sarah Palin. Sarah Barracuda seems to be having a hard time back in Alaska. She complained recently about people "always trying to put (her) on the spot" with tough questions. What a pity! What kind of meanie asked a hard question?

In this case, the President of the Alaska Senate, Gary Stevens. A Republican. Who served Palin a nice softball question asking her to share her plans and proposals for the legislative session.

Ooh, tough question! Just imagine if Sarah had to meet with a real meanie, like her neighbor Russian Tsar Vladimir Putin...

The Moron from the Mediterranean

Silvio Berlusconi, Roman Emperor I mean Prime Minister of Italy. Old Silvio has had a nice run, arranging Italian laws to his personal benefit and the benefit of his media empire. To call Berlusconi "corrupt" is an understatement, like saying Shaquille O'Neal is "tall". Quite.

Well, there is a trial underway in Italy and a British lawyer was convicted of accepting a fat bribe in exchange for lying under oath in a trial about Berlusconi. Oooops. Maybe there is something to those corruption allegations...

Hey, Berlusconi - for $600,000 I'd be glad to lie on your behalf.

The Moron from Illinois

Maybe this should be "morons" - both Senator Roland Burris and ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich. After several earlier versions, Burris has now admitted now to trying to raise money for Rod B while being considered for the Senatorial appointment to succeed Barack Obama.

Doing so with all the scandal swirling around the Illinois appointment brings Burris' intelligence to question - but as long as people like Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhoffe are allowed a seat, I guess you can't kick Burris out for stupidity, or for over-eagerness and ego and desire for advancement, which is probably shared by 95% of the Senate. Be nice if he left the Senate, though...

The Moron from Third Base

And finally Alex Rodriguez. He's not a moron for taking steroids, if they are part of the reason he earns a bazillion dollars a year for his slugging. But he is a moron for assuming that WE are all morons by acting as if he didn't KNOW that he was taking steroids. Give us some credit, okay A-Rod? We didn't just fall of the pumpkin wagon.

Looks like further proof of Jose Canseco's allegations, which were so strenuously rejected a few years ago when his book came out. Jose may be a bit of a self-centered pretty boy but it's interesting how many of the names he named - including Alex Rodriguez - have been exposed as steroid takers.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

a few sane republicans

There are 41 Republican Senators and 178 Republican Congressmen, precisely 3 (all in the Senate) of whom supported the recently-passed stimulus package.

There are 22 Republican Governors. Four of them recently signed a letter (with 14 Democratic Governors) praising the Obama Administration's economic plan - and according to the New York Times, more would have signed but for political pressures within their states.

The sane and brave governors were Florida's Charlie Crist (too bad he's gay, he'll never go further in Republican national politics), California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vermont's Jim Douglas, and Connecticut's Jodi Rell. Crist was even out in public with Obama recently campaigning on behalf of the stimulus package.

So, why did fewer than 2% of national Republicans vote for the deal (7% of Senate, 0% of House), but 18% of the governors have publicly praised Obama? First, the governors are dealing with the practical impacts on the ground of the economic crisis - it is screwing state budgets, for one thing. Second, they may be less surrounded by fellow ideologues than the far-right Republican rump in Congress. And third, these governors don't have the luxury that their House counterparts do of campaigning in electoral districts often tailor-made to produce and support right-wing zealots - they have to win elections at the state level, including big cities and other Democratic strongholds.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

betting on failure

So now, having given essentially zero support to the stimulus package, the GOP is cheering for failure as their electoral strategy. Nice. Guess they still like Rush Limbaugh.

Meanwhile, why should we care that Japan's economy plummeted in late 2008? Because we are Japan's number 1 export market - and the huge drops in exports, gross domestic product, etc are all essentially indicators of the weakness of the AMERICAN economy. But unlike the GOP, Japan will certainly be cheering for success for the Obama Administration's economic policies.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

the real news

Sometimes, amid all the news about the stimulus package, our collapsing banks, the crap situations in Iraq and Afghanistan (thanks for nothing, Bush and Cheney), unfortunate plane crashes, and the like, we miss the real news.

The climate is changing. Global warming is real (although the scientifically illiterate George Will begs to differ. I wish he were right - but he isn't). And now it appears that it might be faster and worse than the scientists thought. Why? Concerns about tropical forests burning and releasing all of their carbon. And about permafrost (the "perma" is as in "permanent". Oops) melting and belching a bunch of methane into the atmosphere.

Stimulus package, fine. But how about a trillion dollar crash program on alternative energy, emission reduction, etc, starting right now? It can help (maybe) avert the worst. And if it doesn't, well our civilization won't be around to worry about paying it off anyway so no harm.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

a skunk changes its name

Blackwater, the private security (that is, mercenary) firm with various problems in Iraq, is taking the classic corporate approach to systemic problems with the firm. Reform? Nah. They're changing the name from "Blackwater" to "Xe".

I don't even know how to pronounce "Xe" (apparently it's "Zee"). Why this name, and why did it take a year allegedly for Blackwater to come up with this new monicker?

Because they wanted something really obscure? Maybe people will see the name "Xe" and assume they are an exchange rate website. Or something to do with xenon...


Glad to see the stimulus package passed, not quite as big as it might have been but hope it will do some help.

I'm sympathetic to the idea of limiting executive pay at the banks that are taking federal help. Financial services lobbyist Scott Talbott doesn't like it, says "It undermines the current incentive structure" and fears Wall Street types will flee to foreign banks or hedge funds.

Let 'em go. Think there aren't other bright people ready to take those jobs even if they earn a mere few hundred thousand or a couple of million dollars? And think those people can do any worse?


Friday, February 06, 2009

misunderstanding the stimulus all the way to the brink

Lots of people don't understand what an economic stimulus package is all about. Unfortunately, many of those people are in Congress. Some moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats are trying to hack $100 billion off of the stimulus package, in the mistaken belief that debts are a big concern at the moment.

Hello - the economy shows serious signs of stalling. You want a REALLY big budgetary blowout? Slash the amount of corporate and income taxes collected when corporate profits dive even further and unemployment soars even higher than it would absent a stimulus package.

And they claim to be removing things that aren't going to stimulate the economy. Retiring Senator Mel Martinez from Florida and his fellow Republicans say that paying for school construction does't qualify.

How to explain this? Simple. They are stupid. You see (I will use small words here), when you build a school, you pay men and women a salary to build it, and you pay companies money to use their equipment and to buy their concrete and to design the school. All of that is a direct boost to the economy. And at the end of it, you have employed some people AND you get a nifty school that children can use for the next 30 years! Neato.

Or if not stupid, they are simply opposed to doing anything for regular people. I bet if this was funding to build heliports for corporate bigwigs in Manhattan and Los Angeles, they would be OK with it.

Along these lines, Steve Pearlstein has a $53.5 million proposal to improve economic literacy of Congress by hiring PhD economists to help them puzzle thru things. His idea is facetious, but he identifies a real problem. Actually, I suspect the economic literacy of many of them is better than they let on, but they will put partisan politics and their re-election prospects ahead of the country.

And so now, as Paul Krugman said, The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge. That is another Republican scandal. But it is also a Democratic scandal in that their Congressional leadership is weak enough to let them do this.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

"new landonists"

Harold Meyerson does a good job here explaining (again, and generally using small words) why stimulus packages involve spending money (by definition). And how that debt incurred is analogous to an investment. When you go into debt to buy a house, you have a house. When you go into debt to repair a bridge, you have a nice usable bridge.

It's just not that hard.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Democratic leadership in the Senate is scrambling for the votes they need to pass the stimulus package. Why, you wonder, are they searching when they have a 58-41 majority?

Because the Senate is a deeply undemocratic body in which individual Senators hold great power to hold legislation up - and the magic number to overcome that is a 3/5 majority, that is 60 votes.

Now, this 3/5 supermajority isn't in the Constitution. It's in the Senate rules, written by the Senate, for the Senate. So why doesn't the Senate change the rules to prevent individual Senators from holding the nation's business hostage? Because many - most, maybe ALL - of the Senators want to retain that precious ability for themselves. Pure selfishness.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

ain't that a shame

Some poor souls who work on Wall Street are lamenting the fact that working on Wall Street is no longer viewed with admiration by most Americans. One guy said he'd rather say he was a pornographer than admit he works on Wall Street, the opprobrium is so strong.

I dunno. I figure I can lose as much money as them as quickly - and I'd be glad to do it for just a fraction of that $18 billion in bonuses the welfare-receiving tycoons dished up to themselves.


irony thought

Wouldn't it be ironic if the only key person from Senator Daschle's political operation not to end up in the Obama Administration were Tom Daschle himself?

Monday, February 02, 2009

republicans bemoaning stimulus package, still

The Republicans' complaint? This stimulus bill isn't Republican enough. That is, it spends ... on the wrong people, by not giving tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and the EMPLOYED enough.
McConnell moans, "I think it may be time ... for the president to kind of get a hold of these Democrats in the Senate and the House, who have rather significant majorities, and shake them a little bit and say, 'Look, let's do this the right way,'" McConnell said. "I can't believe that the president isn't embarrassed about the products that have been produced so far."
Oh boo fucking hoo. First, Obama bent over backwards with House Republicans to meet them part of the way. Hell, 1/3 of the $819 billion is TAX CUTS - admittedly, not Republican Tax Cuts since they aren't all aimed at the yacht and summer home set. It is the Republicans who should be embarrassed at taking a clearly partisan/ideological line and enforcing a zero-vote policy in the House.
And second, yes the Democrats have a majority - quite a large one. They should use it. The GOP used much narrower majorities throughout the 2001-07 period to ram ideological bits of legislation through Congress. Remember the famous Rove strategy as implemented by DeLay, that all you need is 50% + one? They were happy to pass things 219-216 or 51-49. In fact, they'd count the votes and even give some vulnerable Republicans permission to vote "no", not bothering to make any concessions to try for any Democratic votes. Now all of a sudden, McConnell is moaning that a 58-41 majority (pending the outcome in Minnesota's recount/court case) shouldn't really count if zero of the 41 Republicans are happy?
In any case I think he will be unhappily mistaken. I suspect some of the GOP Senators will break ranks. First, some of them like the two GOP Maine senators Snowe and Collins, show dangerous signs of sanity and independent thinking. Second, several GOP Senators are up for re-election in 2010. Unlike their House colleagues, Senators have to win an entire state, not just a district gerrymandered to produce ultra-rightist victories. They may not want to be on record opposing a bill that is designed to create jobs for little people, to improve health benefits and unemployment benefits for little people, while defending their pro-fat cat record...

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

dissing fdr

Amity Shlaes is on a one-woman campaign to discredit Franklin Delano Roosevelt's economic record, aka the New Deal. She's at it again, today the Washington Post giving her the white space for her slippery and ultimately wrong arguments.

She's full of crap and false statements. I'm too lazy to go into detail.

Check out Edge of the American West, which has had several excellent entries about her (most recent one here, although I bet there will be a new one this week!). Or read Paul Krugman, who knows a thing or two about economics.

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